Shortage of truck drivers to force supermarket prices up

An acute shortage of truck drivers across the UK is set to add to pressure on the prices of a weekly shop and result in a shortage of products on shelves by the autumn, experts have warned. The Road Haulage Association (RHA) believes a 15,000 drop in UK truck drivers following drivers from Eastern Europe returning home since Brexit at the turn of the year is likely to create a “perfect storm” for supermarkets that will result in higher prices and a lack of choice for shoppers. Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy at the RHA, said that the combination of a lack of truck drivers and the end of the customs grace period in October is likely to lead to huge pressure on supermarkets to raise prices as demand outweighs the supply of popular everyday products such as pasta, meat and dairy products as well as general household products.

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“The supermarket won’t tell you this because they don’t want to scare customers away,” said Mr McKenzie, “But we are heading for a perfect storm. We don’t have anywhere near enough truck drivers to keep supermarket deliveries at their present rate. We lost so many drivers because of Brexit and UK people don’t want to take up the jobs available.

“It could all come to a head in October when the grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end. Not only will it be tougher to get all sorts of products into the UK, but there also won’t be enough drivers to deliver them to the supermarkets and we could well be looking at shortages on our shelves.”

The grace period for full post-Brexit checks was due to come to an end at the end of March, but the UK Government took a unilateral decision to extend it in order to provide all importing and exporting businesses with more time to adapt to the new trading regulations. While the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which speaks on behalf of the supermarkets, said delivery costs were unlikely to directly impact prices on the shelves, Mr McKenzie added that haulage companies were going to be forced into paying more for drivers, and those cost would be passed onto supermarkets.

“The supermarkets may say it’s not a big enough cost to affect prices for consumers right now, but something has to give. In order to fill the driver vacancies haulage companies are going to have to pay increased salaries. That will be passed on to the consumer eventually.

It always is.” The BRC did concede that the end of the grace period for full customs checks in October and other international factors are likely to lead to rising supermarket prices. Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the BRC, said: “Rising global food prices, increased shipping costs, and new imports checks and documentation from October 2021, will all put pressure on supermarket prices in the future.”

The BRC added that global food prices have hit their highest level for seven years, while shipping costs have risen threefold since 2019, and commodity prices such as fuel are also climbing.

Alex Altmann, a partner at business advisory firm Blick Rothenberg, said: “Despite what those politicians backing Brexit told us, the UK’s exit from the EU is going to cost everyone in the UK more in their shopping basket.”